“I thought the overall quality of all the teams was so superior this year,” said Jr. Iron Chef organizer Alonzo “Lonnie” Paige. “They were just all better.”
The premise of Jr. Iron Chef VT is simple. Teams of three to five students each have 90 minutes to create a dish using seasonal, local foods that are also delicious, nutritious, and can be served in school cafeterias. Dishes must be vegetarian and must be prepared by the students. Each team has an adult coach who can assist in development of the dish, but the coach cannot take part in the actual cooking. Most of the cooking was done on a Coleman-style camp stove, although ovens and food processors were available for use.
On Thursday, 64 middle school students on 13 teams competed for the three slots reserved for Twin Valley Middle School at the state finals. Winning teams were announced after a panel of judges labored over the final decisions.
The winning team was Zeman’s Zing Zang, coached by local chef Bob Zeman of the Red Mill Inn. The team was made up of students Karissa Littleton, Maddie Howe, Jacob Hicks, and Kim Froment. Their winning entry was “Himalayan Vegetable Stew.”
Second place went to last year’s winner, the J-Lee Stackmasters, coached by TVMS teacher Kelli Rosso. Kaylea Niles, Hailey Gamache, Baylee Crawford, and Justin Hicks cooked up a well-received veggie lasagna entrée.
The third middle school team earning a trip to Burlington was Team Murdock, coached by parent Matt Murdock, a multiple-year veteran of the competition. Team Murdock was awarded the “most creative” award for its cherry chili and potato patties entry. Nick Nilsen, Kyle Murdock, DJ Lazelle, and Jake Cassese comprised the team.
“The kids seemed to have more fun,” said Paige. “Every team had something going on. Half the battle is having fun.”
Three Twin Valley High School teams also cooked at the competition. The TVHS teams, Hakuna Matata, Hot & Dangerous, and Deliciousness, will be competing at Saturday’s statewide competition.
Middle school teams from Stamford and Halifax also cooked at the Jr. Iron Chef event, but will not be competing at the state finals, at least not this year.
Paige is justifiably proud of the growth and increased excitement he has seen in the four years of organizing the event. “The community really comes together,” he said. “It’s so wonderful for the kids and parents. It’s a unique event that has taken the area by storm.”
On Saturday, March 26, the Burlington School Food Project and Vermont Food Education Every Day will host 60 teams of middle and high school students for the Vermont finals. Celebrity judges, including Vermont Commissioner of Education Armando Vilaseca, will sample each dish, judging on taste, best use of local ingredients, creativity, and feasibility of using the recipes as part of school food menus. Entertaining for the day will be the award-winning Elysian Charter School Glee Club, from Hoboken, NJ. The singers will serve up soulful sounds and stirring songs about the wonderful world of food. The glee club will perform songs including “I Fell in Love With Broccoli” – a stirring love ballad to one of the most beautiful vegetables of all. Sen. Bernie Sanders is also scheduled to attend the event.
The event is being held at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm. Admission is $3 for individuals and $5 for a family; children under 3 years of age are admitted free.
Regardless of how the local teams finish at the state competition, Paige seems to think the results are already in. Summing up last week’s competition, he complimented all the teams, saying, “There wasn’t a loser in the crowd.”